Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Colonist’s Tale: There and back again

by Jenny May

With the release of Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey all eyes are turning toward Middle Earth, and it seems like a good time to share my discovery of a volume unassumingly tucked away in the Worcester Cathedral Library: The Official Handbook of New Zealand. A Collection of Papers by experienced colonists. Lovers of The Lord of the Rings be warned, the guide is lacking on info for encounters with trolls, dwarves and dragons.

The Handbook. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

As a volunteer hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand I was delighted to come across The Official Handbook of New Zealand amongst the Cathedral Library’s impressive collection, and even more pleased when during my examination of the book, a variety of fascinating Kiwi connections with Worcester Cathedral itself became evident.

Those who incline to make New Zealand their home should not form extravagant anticipations of it. It is not paved with gold”

The Official Handbook of New Zealand is the 1875 forerunner to the Lonely Planet Travel Guide: the geographic chapter structure, the pastiche form compiling the accounts of various experienced globetrotters. However, change the target audience from international backpackers to middle class colonists, the accommodation from “super-hipster communal hostelling” to tightly patrolled, “immigrants barracks”, and trade tips for the hottest bars, for the assurance that “no rowdyism is tolerated” and you’ll have something of an overview of the handbook’s contents.

Dunedin c.1875. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
“A New Zealand view of New Zealand”

Our countrymen of the UK may form an idea of it if they suppose it to be a very thinly peopled country, with numerous points in common with the islands of Great Britain but possessing, on the whole, a much better climate, free from pauperism, more free from prejudices of class and therefore opening… a better road to advancement.

New Zealand, it seems, was perceived back then much as it still is today, as something of a ‘promised land’ for colonists. A land abundant with new beginnings, a chance to rediscover a lost pastoral England. The volume, commissioned by the New Zealand government, appeals both to the nostalgic Brit, and the adventurer.

To every Englishman whose colonizing taste has been inspired by his boyish reading of Robinson Crusoe (and with how many is not this the case?) … these charming little bays seem to realize the exact idea of his imagination.

Opening the text with an overview of New Zealand’s history, editor Julian Vogel is not only guilty of over-romanticizing life in the colonies, but of practically excluding any mention of the native Maori people whatsoever. Although typical of the time, such prejudice still grates and bemuses when read by modern eyes. The first mention of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori comes as a footnote to Abel Tasman’s claiming of the Islands in 1642.

The occupation of the savages (was) a thing of small account

The response of the warrior Maori people to the first European arrivals was first with spears. Vogel tries to rationalise this response with the comparison to the rough inhabitants of the “black country” of Staffordshire who greeted strangers by “heaving a brick”. Thus, he says in delightfully English manner, “The Maoris could hardly be expected to appreciate the relations which ought to exist between themselves and their visitors.”

Potential colonists are encouraged therefore, to rid themselves of the misconception that “emigration to New Zealand virtually means settling in the midst of a barbarous population, always on the look out for plunder” and instead reassured that although colonists might “notice a stray Maori or two” in towns of the North Island, they are “not however, clad in the dirty blanket or rough flax mat but “got up” in fashionable European Costume”. This entry certainly, you would not find in a contemporary travel guide. Visitors to the country today are encouraged to explore and understand the country’s rich Maori history.

“A settlement complete in itself”

George Lyttelton's effigy. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
One of the most important connections between my two homes lies with a nobleman buried in Worcester Cathedral itself, a gentleman described as “the centre of the intellectual life and progress of the county” from the time of his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire in 1839 to his death in 1876.  George William Lyttelton, whose very handsome memorial can be found in the Cathedral, was, for a time, Secretary of the Colonies and took a special interest in New Zealand.

The tomb with family heraldry. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
In 1848 Lord Lyttelton formed the Canterbury association for the founding of a settlement in New Zealand. Land was bought from the Ngai Tahu tribe and Canterbury was established, with Christchurch as its main settlement. The port town of Lyttelton was named in honour of the colonist’s work, and still bears that name today.

The port  town of Lyttelton. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
The intention was for Canterbury to exist as a centre of civilization, “a settlement complete in itself, having as little connection as possible to the other centres of population in the colony, and composed entirely of members of the United Church of Great Britain and Ireland”. However the plans for this little English utopia were undone by the province’s very success and the city quickly diversified. Life in Canterbury proved lucrative, land was good and Christchurch became extremely wealthy – in 1858 it was dubbed the “richest community in the world up to this time” with a population of 7,000 producing a revenue of 96,000 pounds.

“Not for a long time to come…”

Christchurch in 1875. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

At the heart of Christchurch today lies the remains of the very same Cathedral, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, and described in The Official Handbook as being “not yet much more than commenced”. This icon of the city, cherished by the inhabitants of a young country as a historical landmark, has been a topic of controversy in recent months. Heavily damaged in the devastating 2011 earthquake, the decision was taken to demolish and rebuild. A temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, designed by architect Shigeru Ban is currently in the process of being erected.

In the wake of the 2011 earthquake, much of the historic architecture that made Christchurch unique has been destroyed. However, even today, red telephone boxes encountered on the streets, punts drifting along the river Avon and the sight of people admiring roses in the botanical gardens recall England to passers-by. It seems Vogel’s prediction was right:

“Not for a long time to come, if ever, will the characteristics the settlements received from their early founders be entirely obliterated.”

And this thought does indeed draw us ‘back again’ to our own magnificent Cathedral in Worcester, and to that same Lord Lyttelton responsible for founding the region of Canterbury, New Zealand.

The Official Handbook of New Zealand: A collection of papers by experienced colonists as the colony as a whole and on the several provinces.
Edited by Julian Vogel, C.M.G.
(Printed for the government of New Zealand by Wyman & Sons, Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s inn fields, 1875)
Worcester Cathedral: Its monuments and their stories by The Very Reverend W. Moore Ede

N.B. To my delight, I came across an entry about the school I used to work at, ‘Christ’s College’, described in The Official Handbook as “a highly useful and effective establishment” with teaching so good “that the school has attained what may be called a pre-eminent position in New Zealand.” Obviously, I can vouch for the fact that over a hundred years later this is still the case.

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